The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art

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Proclaiming it to be "a timely introduction" to a shamanistic interpretation of Upper Palaeolithic rock art, Wallis believed that Lewis-Davidson puts forward "a compelling case" for the nature of such cave paintings.


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Although he had some reservations, he noted that the book established the shamanistic interpretation as being the "forefront" of rock art research. He ended his review by mentioning the manner in which Lewis-Williams ended the book by emphasising that there is no reason for contemporary people to be shamans; himself a Neoshaman , Wallis noted that Lewis-Williams might be concerned that "his work will inspire neo-Shamanism rather than rational materialism", but proceeded to express his opinion that even if it did so, it would "be none the worse for that.

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Writing in his opening paper, "Agency, Intellect and the Archaeological Agenda", published in the academic anthology Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited , the archaeologist Martin Carver praised Lewis-Williams' book, describing it as "stimulating" and remarking that it had "redefined the world of early spirituality for archaeologists". Considering Lewis-Williams' case to be "persuasive", Carver felt that the theories contained within it could be used to shine light on the world of Anglo-Saxon paganism. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Book by David Lewis-Williams. See also: Archaeological model of entoptic phenomena. This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. November This section is empty. Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book! The breathtakingly beautiful art created deep inside the caves of western Europe has the power to dazzle even the most jaded observers.

Emerging from the narrow underground passages into the chambers of caves such as Lascaux, Chauvet, and Altamira, visitors are confronted with symbols, patterns, and depictions of bison, woolly mammoths, ibexes, and other animals. Since its discovery, cave art has provoked great curiosity about why it appeared when and where it did, how it was made, and what it meant to the communities that created it.

The Mind in the Cave

David Lewis-Williams proposes that the explanation for this lies in the evolution of the human mind. Cro-Magnons, unlike the Neanderthals, possessed a more advanced neurological makeup that enabled them to experience shamanistic trances and vivid mental imagery. It became important for people to "fix," or paint, these images on cave walls, which they perceived as the membrane between their world and the spirit world from which the visions came. Over time, new social distinctions developed as individuals exploited their hallucinations for personal advancement, and the first truly modern society emerged.

The Mind as Cave Theory

Illuminating glimpses into the ancient mind are skillfully interwoven here with the still-evolving story of modern-day cave discoveries and research. Now in paperback, "The Mind in the Cave is a superb piece of detective work, casting light on the darkest mysteries of our earliest ancestors while strengthening our wonder at their aesthetic achievements. I have read nothing more fascinating all year' - John Carey, Sunday Times 'The most comprehensive and convincing explanation for the cave art in Europe so far' - Chris Stringer, Evening Standard 'A genuine masterpiece' - Jean Clottes 'A masterly piece of detective work' - Sunday Telegraph 'A thorough, accessible and beautifully illustrated history of the origins of art based on anthropological and neurological research' - Observer 'A fascinating and closely argued analysis' - Colin Renfrew, University of Cambridge.

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The archaeological evidence of Neanderthal culture is strikingly lacking in precisely these kinds of symbolic artefacts, suggesting that although Neanderthals had dreams, visions and language, they lacked the component of consciousness which would have enabled them to recall them, share them, socialise them and represent them.

The profusion of cave art, then, suggests that human symbolic culture received a defining boost because it was precisely this part of the spectrum of consciousness which differentiated humans from their Neanderthal neighbours. Cave art was part of a technology which enabled humans, uniquely, to communicate their dreams, and to inhabit an imaginatively shared spirit world.

The Mind in the Cave | Thames & Hudson Australia & New Zealand

If this is true, we perhaps have the Neanderthals to thank or blame for setting humanity on the cultural trajectory towards modern civilisation. Drawing judiciously on parallels with contemporary San and North American rock art, Lewis-Williams begins at this point to sketch out how this spirit world might have been configured. Caves were associated with the spirit world; cave walls were the membrane between the two worlds.


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Images of dots and handprints suggest that there were ritual techniques for merging into the membrane and bridging the worlds. The faint tallow lamps carried into the depths would have meant that walls were explored slowly and in miniature scale, as much by touch as by sight. He has begun with the most basic building-blocks, and successfully modelled an interpretative system.

His model is conservative in some ways, relying heavily on mechanistic reductions of the shamanic cosmos to the neurology of consciousness: no psychedelic flights of fancy here. And while it significantly advances the process of making sense of Palaeolithic cave art, it does nothing to rob it of its eternal strangeness.

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